Surprisingly, those who do not keep a close eye on BBC Sport, Sky Sports News and the like may not know the current state of the FIFA presidential election. Luis Figo and Michael van Praag, two of three men standing in the way of Sepp Blatter getting another term, withdrew their bids for the presidency of football’s chief organisation.
Van Praag stayed largely silent, but Figo voiced his disgust at the election as well as at Sepp Blatter and FIFA in general. Figo described the election as “a plebiscite for the delivery of absolute power to one man”, calling it “anything but an election” and suggesting that the process was not as democratic as it may seem. He said:
“I have seen with my own eyes federation presidents who, after one day comparing FIFA leaders to the devil, then go on stage and compare those same people with Jesus Christ.
“Nobody told me about this. I saw it with my own eyes.”
The pair’s withdrawal means that Sepp Blatter’s only rival is Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, and it seems almost certain that the 79-year-old will retain the post he has held since 1998. Blatter’s reign has not been without controversy. In fact, it would probably take less time to list the moments when he has not caused argument and been surrounded by unpopularity.
It is very unlikely that the former Barcelona and Real Madrid winger would have become president. The same can be said for van Praag. Nevertheless, the Luis Figo withdrawal from the FIFA presidential election highlights many of the things which are wrong with the organisation.
Many leaders have uttered famous quotes. However, Mr Blatter’s famous quotes are unanimously memorable for all the wrong reasons. In 2004, he said that women’s football would be more popular if the players wore tighter shorts. In 2010, he suggested that in some countries people would “applaud” John Terry’s cheating on his wife, and a few months later suggested that gay football fans should “refrain from sexual activity” if they wished to attend the 2022 World Cup. The following year, he suggested that issues with racism in football could be solved by a handshake.
Certainly, the Swiss is at least clumsy with his words. But he and the organisation he fronts are not very good at making popular decisions, either. As it stands, the 2022 World Cup will be held in the great footballing nation of Qatar.
One issue with that decision is that most of the stadia — indeed some of the cities — which will host the tournament are yet to exist. Another is that due to the climate of Qatar, the World Cup will have to be held in the winter, heavily disrupting the domestic schedule of most of the world. However, the deepest issues in FIFA’s decision to award the competition to Qatar are ethical ones.
Homosexuality is illegal in the country. Homophobia in football is a problem which still very much exists, and therefore this does not set a very good example. Not only that, it is likely that many of the people working on building the stadia for the competition will die, and it is known that all of them are in sub-standard living conditions. Just by scratching the surface, one can see that a Qatar World Cup poses a few difficulties. As if all that wasn’t enough, it turns out that the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were heavily corrupt.
It is safe to say that a few things need changing at FIFA, not least the leader. Alas, that is not going to happen just yet. But this is not just about how poor a job Sepp Blatter is doing. Figo’s withdrawal and air of submission shows that there is much more wrong with football’s governing body than meets the eye. The inside of FIFA is far more rotten than the outside signs of corruption and wrongdoing which so often present themselves.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the public will get to know the inside story.
John Dalberg-Acton once said that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This has certainly been the case with Blatter. Perhaps it would have been the same with Figo. That is not the issue. The matter at hand is that the governing body of the biggest sport in the world seems to be a dictatorship, and an incredibly corrupt one at that.
Anger seems rather futile. All connected with football seem powerless to prevent Blatter from getting in again. Change is needed — whether it will come is a whole different matter. The first step is for all the evils going on on the inside to be revealed. If Luis Figo were to go into detail as to what he saw with his own eyes, not only would it make for fascinating listening, it would make clearer Blatter’s and FIFA’s ongoing evils.
One can only hope that once Blatter is got rid of, he is not replaced with another bastion of deceit.